Tag Archives: tyrannosaur

Iconic Tyrannosaurus may actually be three distinct species of dinosaur

By a wide margin, Tyrannosaurus rex is the most famous and most beloved dinosaur in the world. Named the “king of the tyrant lizards, everything about this ferocious Cretaceous predator looks like it was built to rule, from its muscular body stretching as long as a school bus, snout to tail, to its stuff skull adorned with 60 serrated teeth, each designed to pierce and grip the flesh of gigantic prey. And like a true king, T. rex reigned single-handedly over his domain, being the only species in the genus Tyrannosaurus. Or is it?

A recent analysis of T. rex fossils suggests that the genus may actually comprise three distinct but closely related species of Tyrannosaurus, citing both anatomical and stratigraphic evidence from three dozen specimens unearthed across the world.

The main differences identified in the three proposed distinct species are quite subtle but significant. These include the shape of the femur and tooth configuration.

Sharing the throne

Telling closely related species apart can be very challenging, especially those that have been extinct for over 65 million years. Take, for instance, a group of South American finches known as “capuchino” seedeaters. Many of these birds look very similar, apart from some subtle hints. Male dark-throated seedeaters and marsh seedeaters look exactly the same in terms of shape and size, except for the color of their plumage. The former has a black throat, while the latter has a white throat. Their songs are also different; one species might have trills in different sections of the song, while another might be buzzy.

Yet plumage color or vocalization can’t be preserved, so very closely related species of dinosaurs can be easily mashed together into a single one. Adding to the challenge is individual variation owed to age and sex.

Previously reported variations in femur shape and specimens with either one or two slender incisor teeth on each side of the front jaw suggested the Tyrannosaurus genus is richer than at first glance. Gregory Paul and colleagues picked up from here and compared the robustness of the femur in 24 T. rex specimens. They also measured the diameter of the base of teeth to see if a specimen had one or two slender incisor teeth.

Some specimens had more study femurs — calculated using the length and circumference of the thigh bone — while others had more gracile femurs. The researchers found that the robust femurs were twice more abundant than the gracile variety. If these substantial differences were owed to sex differences, you’d expect a ratio closer to 50/50. Robust femurs were found in T. rex juveniles while some adult dinosaurs had gracile femurs, which also rules out differences owed to age and development stages.

Concerning teeth variation, the scientists found that T. rex specimens with only one incisor tooth were correlated with often having high femur gracility.

And, finally, the researchers also analyzed each specimen’s stratigraphy, the classification of different layers or layering of sedimentary deposits. When a fossil is found in lower layers of sediment, this means it is older than those found in the soil further up. Of the 37 Tyrannosaurus specimens included in this study, 28 were found in the Lancian upper Maastrichtian formations in North America, which are estimated to be from between 67.5 to 66 million years ago.

But only robust Tyrannosaurus femurs were found in the lower layer of sediment, which is conducive to variation of robustness in other theropod species, indicating that only one species of Tyrannosaurus existed during this era.  Only one gracile Tyrannosaurus femur was identified in the middle layer with five other gracile femurs in the upper layer, alongside other robust femurs. This suggests that maybe these specimens found in sediment layers further up developed into more distinct specimens than those found in lower levels.

“We found that the changes in Tyrannosaurus femurs are likely not related to the sex or age of the specimen. We propose that the changes in the femur may have evolved over time from a common ancestor who displayed more robust femurs to become more gracile in later species. The differences in femur robustness across layers of sediment may be considered distinct enough that the specimens could potentially be considered separate species.”

The lizard emperor, king, and queen

Besides T. rex, the researchers have nominated two potential new species: Tyrannosaurus imperator (tyrant lizard emperor) and Tyrannosaurus regina (tyrant lizard queen), both aptly christened to preserve the royal nature of the lineage. The first relates to specimens found at lower and middle sediment layers, characterized by more robust femurs and two incisor teeth. The second, T. regina, is related to specimens from upper and possibly middle layers of sediment, having slender femurs and one incisor tooth. Meanwhile, good old T. rex is connected with the upper and possibly middle layer of sediment, with specimens displaying a more robust femur while having only one incisor tooth.

As a caveat, the number of specimens isn’t very large — at least not large enough to make a convincing case of speciation for such subtle morphological differences. After all, the authors themselves cannot rule out the possibility that the differences they’ve highlighted aren’t owed to extreme individual differences. Furthermore, the exact location within the sediment layers is not known for some specimens.

Even so, the mere tangible possibility that T. rex isn’t alone is fascinating and enthralling. Perhaps we’ll learn more about this royal lineage once more evidence surfaces.

The findings appeared in the journal Evolutionary Biology.

Before T. rex: Newly discovered shark-toothed dinosaur in Uzbekistan was THE apex predator of its time

Illustration of Ulughbegsaurus alongside a much smaller contemporary tyrannosaur. Credit: Julius Csotonyi.

The prototypical predator during the age of dinosaurs in most people’s imagination is the mighty Tyrannosaurus rex. But before its lineage could rise to the top of the food web, another rival group of predators known as the carcharodontosaurs dominated the landscape. After reexamining a jawbone fragment stashed away for decades in an Uzbekistan museum, paleontologists now claim they’ve identified a new species of Carcharodontosaurus that would’ve given T. rex a run for its money.

In the shadow of a giant

Ulughbegsaurus uzbekistanensis, named so after a sultan mathematician who ruled over what is now Uzbekistan during the 15th century, was an absolute unit. It measured 8 meters (26 feet) in length and weighed nearly a ton (2,200 pounds), terrorizing Central Asia about 90 million years ago.

“Carcharodontosauria is a group of medium to large-sized predatory theropods, distributed worldwide during the Cretaceous. These theropods were probably the apex predators of Asiamerica in the early Late Cretaceous prior to the ascent of tyrannosaurids, although few Laurasian species are known from this time due to a poor rock record,” researchers wrote in their study.

T. rex‘s reign started much later, during the late Cretaceous Period some 65 million years ago, but U. uzbekistanensis likely shared the playing field with other tyrannosaurids. However, the latter were kept in check by carcharodontosaurs. For instance, Timurlengia, a tyrannosaur from Central Asia that lived around the same time as U. uzbekistanensis weighed a measly 170 kg (375 pounds) and didn’t grow larger than 4 meters (13 feet) in length. That’s still ferocious by today’s standards, but the clash between the two would have been as pointless as a coyote taking on a grizzly bear.

Although there are many similarities between tyrannosaurs and carcharodontosaurs, there are also some notable differences. One of the most important distinguishing features of carcharodontosaurs is their shark-like, serrated teeth.

These teeth like knives were evident in the upper jaw fragment discovered in Uzbekistan’s Kyzylkum Desert, in a 90-million-year-old geological formation where paleontologists previously unearthed duckbill dinosaurs, sauropods, horned dinosaurs, and many others.

Scientists had previously found other examples of concomitant tyrannosaur and carcharodontosaur fossils, but U. uzbekistanensis represents the earliest such relationship and may help piece together the timeline in which carcharodontosaurs passed the torch to tyrannosaurs as the world’s leading predators.

But many questions still remain, chief among them being why the carcharodontosaurs would ever abdicate their royal position.

In their study, which was published in the journal Royal Society Open Science, researchers at the University of Tsukuba and the University of Calgary write that severe climate change that altered prey availability may explain the rise of the tyrannosaurs, culminating with the biggest, meanest of them all: T. rex.

“The discovery of Ulughbegsaurus records the geologically latest stratigraphic co-occurrence of carcharodontosaurid and tyrannosauroid dinosaurs from Laurasia, and evidence indicates carcharodontosaurians remained the dominant predators relative to tyrannosauroids, at least in Asia, as late as the Turonian,” the scientists concluded.

Small arms, tongue-tied: T-Rex couldn’t stick its tongue out

The idea of a roaring tyrannosaur run amok, flailing its head and tongue around, might not be accurate at all researchers say.

Some of the fossils used for the study. The blue and green arrows are pointing to the hyoid apparatus. Image credit: Li et al. 2018

It’s funny how one of the fiercest predators in our planet’s history — if not the fiercest — is the butt of so many jokes in modern times. The small arms of the T-Rex are so well-known that they often precede the dinosaurs’ incredible reputation. But no matter how you look at it, in its heyday, T-Rex was a killing machine. Its immense head offered an ungodly biting strength, which T-Rex used to the fullest.

Now, researchers have compared the mouth anatomy of T-Rex and other ancient reptile species to their closest living avian and reptilian relatives, including alligators. They were particularly looking at the hyoid bones, which anchor the tongue to the body.

Unlike other bones, the hyoid is only distantly articulated to other bones by muscles or ligaments — instead, it is anchored by muscles from the anterior, posterior, and inferior directions (front, back, and below). The hyoid bones aids in tongue movement and swallowing, while also providing attachment to the floor of the mouth and the tongue above, the larynx below, and the epiglottis and pharynx behind.

Tongues are often not the focus of paleontology studies, but they can offer important insight into the creature’s lifestyle and evolutionary patterns.

“Tongues are often overlooked. But, they offer key insights into the lifestyles of extinct animals,” said lead author Zhiheng Li, an associate professor at the Key Laboratory of Vertebrate Evolution and Human Origins of the Chinese Academy of Sciences.

The results show that the hyoid bones of most dinosaurs were like those of alligators and crocodiles — short, simple, and connected to a tongue that was not very mobile. In other words, like today’s crocodiles, tyrannosaurs likely couldn’t stick their tongue out. This goes directly against the grain of how these dinosaurs are depicted in popular media.

“They’ve been reconstructed the wrong way for a long time,” said study author Julia Clarke, a professor at the University of Texas Jackson School of Geosciences, in a statement. “In most extinct dinosaurs, their tongue bones are very short. And in crocodilians with similarly short hyoid bones, the tongue is totally fixed to the floor of the mouth.”

However, this wasn’t the case for all the dinosaurs researchers studied. Pterosaurs, bird-like dinosaurs that could fly have a great diversity in hyoid bone shapes (just like living birds, and often have very mobile tongues. Clarke and her team suspect that this feature could potentially be connected to other evolutionary traits such as flying.

“Birds, in general, elaborate their tongue structure in remarkable ways,” Clarke said. “They are shocking.”

Essentially, they say that if the forelimbs started developing into wings, this could have drastically reduced the ability of birds and pterosaurs to manipulate food, and the tongue might have become agiler to compensate for that lack.

“If you can’t use a hand to manipulate prey, the tongue may become much more important to manipulate food,” Li added. “That is one of the hypotheses that we put forward.”

But there’s also an exception: ornithischian dinosaurs — a group that includes Triceratops, ankylosaurs, and other plant-eating dinosaurs that chewed their food — had hyoid bones that were highly complex and more mobile; obviously, they couldn’t fly, so they must have had a different reason for evolving this way. However, researchers note that they were structurally different from those of flying dinosaurs and pterosaurs.

Researchers hope that their work can inspire further research on the topic, especially as it’s not clear when these changes started to occur in the fossil record.

Journal Reference: Zhiheng Li, Zhonghe Zhou, Julia A. Clarke. Convergent evolution of a mobile bony tongue in flighted dinosaurs and pterosaurs. PLOS ONE, 2018; 13 (6): e0198078 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0198078

Researchers investigate intriguing ‘baby’ tyrannosaur fossil

The “fabulous” fossil probably belongs to a young Tyrannosaurus rex that lived 66.5 million years ago — but it also could also be a mature specimen of a smaller carnivorous dinosaur.

Back at the lab, the researchers found the fossil glowed under a black light. Credit: University of Kansas.

Tyrannosaur fossils are always a treat, but finding one as well-preserved as this one is a special treat. The fossil features a complete section of the upper jaw with all of its teeth intact, along with bits of the specimen’s skull, foot, hips and even backbone. Judging by the preliminary analysis, the fossil seems to belong to a juvenile, which means it could offer new perspectives on how tyrannosaurs evolved and developed — but it also means more questions.

Whenever you’re working with fossils that are tens of millions of years old, you’re bound to deal with some uncertainties. The Nanotyrannus (as the specimen has been named) is hard to attribute to one species or another because not many juvenile fossils have been found.

“The teeth suggest it’s a Tyrannosaurus rex; however, there is still more work to be done,” said David Burnham, preparator of vertebrate paleontology at the KU Biodiversity Institute. “Because a young T. rex is so rare, there are only a few that have been found over the years, so it’s difficult to discern what are changes due to growth or if the differences in the bones reflect different species. Fortunately, KU has an older T. rex to compare with and another young T. rex on loan to help decipher this problem.”

Many animals show growth lines in their bones as they are developing — kind of like tree rings. However, as the bone ages and is potentially damaged, regular repair procedures are carried out to renew bone, and these procedures can mask each other, hiding the real age of the bone.

In this case, researchers are planning a microscopic analysis of the fossil bones that were brought into the lab, and they’re also preparing for a new trip to the original fossil site to see if they can find more of it.

“Confusing the issue here is age,” Burnham said. “Ontogeny, that’s the process of growth—and during that process we change. Adult dinosaur bones, especially in the skull, don’t look the same as their younger selves. So, if someone finds a baby or juvenile fossil they may think it’s a new species, but we have to be careful since it may represent a younger growth stage of an existing species. It’s reasonable to assume Nanotyrannus could be valid—but we must show it’s not just a stage in the life history of T. rex.”

After the analysis concludes, we can expect a paper addressing the position of this fossil on the family tree of theropod dinosaurs and answering the most pressing of questions: was it a T-Rex, or not.

triceratops reconstruction

Stunning triceratops fossil discovered by chance on construction site

A gargantuan Triceratops fossil was unearthed in Colorado. Paleontologists were thrilled to discover the 2,000-kilogram — 4,460-pound — giant at a construction site in Thornton.


Few dinosaurs stand as impressive as the armored Triceratops. Their tank-like appearance, the bony frill, and three horns make for an easily recognizable beast, and the mighty Triceratops is a star among dinosaurs. So it’s easy to understand why Joe Sertich, a Curator of Dinosaurs at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science, was so excited when he learned of the fossil.

“My heart was racing,” says DMNS Curator of Dinosaurs Joe Sertich. “I realized it was a pretty important dinosaur find.”

It’s a comprehensive find, a full or almost full skeleton. It was uncovered in a patch of loose sand, which facilitate excavation. At first, the finding was kept secret but then, a part of it was even live-streamed on Facebook.

“This is probably one of only three skulls of triceratops found along the Front Range area,” says Sertich.

triceratops reconstruction

This is how Triceratops probably looked like. Credits: Nobu Tamura.

Most findings in the area come from a completely geological era, from the Ice Age — just 10 to 12 thousand years ago. But the Triceratops fought the T-Rex some 66 million years ago, and that’s likely when it encountered the unhappy fate which preserved it so well for paleontologists to find.

“This dinosaur has been laying here for at least 66-million years,” says Sertich. “I’m over the moon right now about this dinosaur fossil.”

This finding also poses some intriguing questions. The Triceratops stood up to three meters tall (9.8 feet) and 9 meters long (29.5 feet), weighing up to 12 tonnes (26,000 pounds). But this one, like previous findings from the area, is much smaller, and we don’t really know why. Previous fossils haven’t yielded much information about that, but this one might help put things into perspective.

“We don’t really know why,” he added. “Even though we have hundreds of triceratops from the American West, we only have three good skulls. And this might be one of the best skeletons to tell us why Denver triceratops are smaller than all of their cousins everywhere else.”

Also, since the bones are at least partly disaggregated, paleontologists believe the Triceratops was hunted and killed by a Tyrannosaur, its bones left to decay. If this is indeed the case, it could also help better understand the relationship between the two iconic dinosaurs.

The fossil is not visible from the street, but officials are working to provide the necessary resources to facilitate not only the study, but also the display of the fossil. You can check out the project at www.gocot.net/dinosaur.

T-Rex’s image as a giant, scaly, monster supported by new study

Recent studies have cast some doubt on the general appearance of the Tyrannosaurus Rex; sure, it was a giant, hell-like predator, that’s for sure, but was it covered in feathers, scales, or did it have some kind of mix or transitional skin? Well, a new study restores the ‘traditional’ image of the T-Rex, concluding that the dinosaur was, at least mostly, covered in scales.

Petting a T-Rex

This fossilized skin comes from the neck of a Tyrannosaurus rex. Image credits: Peter Larson.

Scott Persons, a paleontologist at the University of Alberta, has been fascinated by dinosaurs since he was a little boy. Luckily, he was able to turn that fascination into a career, and now, in a study published in Biology Letters, he offers a valuable contribution to our understanding of dinosaurs. Persons and his colleagues analyzed newly-found skin impressions found in Alberta, Canada, not only from T-Rex, but also from other tyrannosaur species including Albertosaurus, Daspletosaurus, Gorgosaurus, and Tarbosaurus. They found several intriguing samples and identified a common pattern between them: all skin impressions had a texture riddled with small pebbly scales and not fuzzy plumage.

This contradicts previous studies, which found that T-Rex sported a rich feathery plumage. This new study doesn’t necessarily disprove that, it just seems to suggest that at least some (perhaps most) of tyrannosaurs were covered in scales.

“Now that we’ve found these multiple patches of preserved tyrannosaur hide from multiple places across the body, it looks pretty clear that at least the majority of the T. rex was not covered in feathers,” says Persons.

This also doesn’t mean that they were completely devoid of feathers, just that feathers weren’t the dominant feature on their skin. So if you were to pet a T-Rex (something which thankfully, you can’t), it would feel much like a reptile living today. You might or might not stumble upon some plumage, but mostly, it would just be scales.

A scaly situation

This fossil skin sample used in the study comes from a T. rex tail. Image credits: Peter Larson.

This raises an interesting question. We know that T-Rex’s ancestors developed feathers through evolution, why would T-Rex shed them? It seems counterintuitive to develop a feature and then shed it, only to re-develop it again.

Dr. Steve Brusatte, a paleontologist from the University of Edinburgh, who was not involved in the study, commented on this, telling the BBC that this might have happened due to the sheer size of the dinosaur. For instance, Asian elephants are hairier than African elephants, because they are smaller and live in dense forests, with dim sunlight. Just as the larger African elephants grew larger and shed some of their hair, this might also be the case with T-rex and its ancestors.

“But I don’t think we can assume that T. rex lacked feathers just because some fossil skeletons have skin impressions that are scaly,” he added. “It takes inconceivable good luck to preserve feathers in fossils. Just because we don’t see them doesn’t mean they weren’t there. So I don’t think we need to throw out the image of a big fluffy T. rex quite yet.”

Persons agrees with this possibility and says there might be a similar mechanism at work, with today’s mammals.

“If you think about really, really big terrestrial mammals today, like elephants, rhinos, hippos, and cape buffaloes, although they are not hairless, they are very much reduced in the amount of hair that they do have,” says Persons.

Journal Reference: Phil R. Bell, Nicolás E. Campione, W. Scott Persons, Philip J. Currie, Peter L. Larson, Darren H. Tanke, Robert T. Bakker — Tyrannosauroid integument reveals conflicting patterns of gigantism and feather evolutionDOI: 10.1098/rsbl.2017.0092

Tyrannosaur injuries reveal cannibalistic past

When tyrannosaurs ruled the world, no one was safe from them – not even other tyrannosaurs. The skull of an unfortunate adolescent tyrannosaur shows signs of brutal fight; the individual was defeated and then eaten by members of its own species, new research shows.

The animal may not have died fighting, but shows signs of being eaten.

“This animal clearly had a tough life, suffering numerous injuries across the head including some that must have been quite nasty,” said lead author Dr David Hone from Queen Mary, University of London. “The most likely candidate to have done this is another member of the same species, suggesting some serious fights between these animals during their lives.”

It’s not the first time it was suggested that tyrannosaurs were cannibals – in 2010, a study published in PLoS found that no other than T-Rex was a cannibal, while another related dinosaur, Majungasaurus also exhibited cannibalistic behavior. When you have a hammer, everything might seem like a nail to you – when you’re a huge tyrannosaur on top of the food chain, everything looks like a potential meal.

The unfortunate beast found by paleontologists measured about six metres long and its remains were found in a quarry in Alberta, Canada, in 1994. Researchers studied its skull and found numerous injuries, many of which came from bites. There is even a circular, tooth-shaped puncture hole in the back of the head from a particularly savage bite. The creature was bitten even after it was killed, as it was decaying.

Tell-tale bite marks were found on the animal’s skull, which is 55cm long.

It’s hard to say for sure, but it does seem that Tyrannosaurs had a thing for eating each other.

 

“It is not possible to distinguish easily between cannibalism and feeding by another tyrannosaurid,” the researchers write.

Journal Reference: DWE Hone​, DH Tanke. Pre- and postmortem tyrannosaurid bite marks on the remains of Daspletosaurus (Tyrannosaurinae: Theropoda) from Dinosaur Provincial Park, Alberta, Canada. https://dx.doi.org/10.7717/peerj.885

Fossils Reveal “Beer-Bellied” Dinosaur

It was about as big as T-Rex, but not quite as fit – new fossils have revealed that Deinocheirus mirificus had quite a beer belly.

Image via Scientific American.

“This is an entirely new body plan” for such dinosaurs, says Stephen Brusatte, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Edinburgh, UK.

Indeed, few scientists would have imagined such a scientific appearance. The first fossils of Deinocheirus mirificus (which means ‘unusual horrible hand’ in a mixture of Greek and Latin) were dug in 1965 in the Gobi Desert, in Mongolia. The fossils were quite significant: a few rib and vertebra fragments and a remarkable set of shoulder girdles and 2.4-meter-long forelimbs, the longest yet found for a bipedal animal of any era (although some flying animals, notably pterosaurs, had longer wings).

After analyzing the bones, paleontologists placed in a group of therapod dinosaurs called ornithomimosaurs – bird-mimicking dinosaurs. They believed Deinocheirus was related to T-Rex and Allosaurs – some of the most fierce creatures to walk on Earth, explains Yuong-Nam Lee, a vertebrate palaeontologist at the Korea Institute of Geoscience and Mineral Resources in Daejeon, South Korea, and a co-author of the study.

However, in a later expedition, Lee and his colleagues unearthed a much more complete skeleton – 95% intact. Some of the bones had been gathered by poachers but were further recovered by Lee from a private collection. These new fossils were shocking.

For starters, the spinal vertebrae have blade-like projections that extended upward and served as anchors for a network of ligaments; but there would not be a need for such a strong and well fitted system unless the animal had a huge belly. Deinocheirus measured about 11 meters long and tipped the scales at more than 6.3 tons. That’s much more than you would expect for this size.

“This is definitely an unusual animal,” says Thomas Holtz, Jr., a vertebrate palaeontologist at the University of Maryland in College Park, who wrote an accompanying News & Views piece. “It had more of a ‘beer belly’ than your typical ornithomimosaur,” he suggests.

There is still no explanation or theory for why it was built like this. What researchers do know is what it ate. With its 1 meter long toothless head, Deinocheirus ate lots of things. The content of its stomach were also found fossilized: fish vertebrae and scales suggest that Deinocheirus also consumed large quantities of aquatic prey. But the way its head is built suggests that it also feasted on vegetation – it was likely omnivorous, eating both plants and other animals.

Paleontologists believe that throughout Earth’s history, several dinosaurs were omnivorous, though that was likely pretty unusual. The physical build also had a lot to do with its diet – it’s likely that the dinosaur initially evolved as carnivorous, only to change its way and to eat more plants. It seems plausible to me that if this was the case, then it would need to eat more plants to satisfy its energy needs, and therefore develop this “beer belly”.

The beast was a slow mover, but it had long feet with hooves, which would have prevented it from sinking into the boggy wetlands where it lived. Commenting on the research Prof John Hutchinson, a palaeontologist from the UK’s Royal Veterinary College, said:

“Many dinosaur fans have seen pictures of the 8ft-long arms and hands, and they really are amazing and wonderful. People were really wondering what the rest of this animal looked like. Now we know, and it’s just so freaking weird – we never would have expected this animal to look so bizarre. It really is shocking to see how many weird features it has. It changes our view of what kind of forms dinosaurs can even take.”

Yep, when scientists call something “freaking weird” – that’s when you know something’s up.

Meet ‘Pinocchio rex’ – the 9 meter long, ferocious cousin of Tyrannosaurus Rex

A new type of Tyrannosaur with a very long “nose” has been nicknamed “Pinocchio rex” – but this dinosaur was nothing to laugh about. It measured some 9 meters in length, was a ferocious carnivore, and had a long, distinctive snout – which possibly made it even more dangerous.

Artistic depiction of “Pinocchio Rex”

Interestingly enough, the skeleton was found at a construction site in China, and was identified and reconstructed by scientists at Edinburgh University, UK. The 66 million year old predator officially named Qianzhousaurus sinensis, is described in Nature Communications.

“Pinocchio” looked very different to other tyrannosaurs. It had the familiar toothy grin of T. rex, but its snout was long and slender, with a row of horns on top,” said Edinburgh’s Dr Steve Brusatte. It might have looked a little comical, but it would have been as deadly as any other tyrannosaur, and maybe even a little faster and stealthier. We thought it needed a nickname, and the long snout made us think of Pinocchio’s long nose.”

Researchers believe several different tyrannosaurs competed side by side in what is today China during the Cretaceous period. The enormous Tarbosaurus (up to 13m) was extremely strong, being able to overpower most of the giant herbivores which inhabited the area. Pinocchio Rex was lighted, and probably fed off of smaller creatures, such as lizards and feathered dinosaurs. But at 9 meters and almost a ton – it was still huge.

“The iconic picture of a tyrannosaur is T. Rex, the biggest, baddest dinosaur of all. “But this new species was lighter, less muscular. It breaks the mould. Perhaps it had a faster bite and hunted in a different way.”

But why did it have such a big, elongated snout – 35 percent longer than any tyrannosaur?

“The truth is we don’t know yet. But it must’ve been doing something different,” Dr Brusatte explained.

In recent years, two juveniles from the same species were dug up, raising the first questions about a new tyrannosaur.

“The trouble was, they were both juveniles. So it was possible their long snouts were just a weird transient feature that grows out in adults,” said Dr Brusatte, an expert in tyrannosaur evolution.

But this one is an almost mature dinosaur, almost 2 times bigger than previously excavated specimens, and confirms hunches about the large snouts – it also seems to suggest that Pinocchio Rex wasn’t an isolated species, and in fact, was quite widespread in what today is Asia.

“Although we are only starting to learn about them, the long-snouted tyrannosaurs were apparently one of the main groups of predatory dinosaurs in Asia,” he said.